As opposed to in the US where a play may run 8 nights a week for a month or two, in Israel a successful production can run for years and years, but with only a few performances a month. That means that in any given stretch of time, there is at least 5 or 6 times as much theater to see in Israel! In Tel Aviv, productions run the gamut from major institutional theaters playing to over 100,000 patrons a year to tiny performance art troupes performing site specific work in the streets.
In 4.5 days of the International Exposure for Israeli Theatre festival, we saw the full range cramming in as much as we possibly could, with non-stop theater from 9:30 am to after 9:00 pm (Israelis stay up late). The amount of diversity on stage is truly unique to Israeli theater ranging from the most innovative of fringe productions to large-scale productions at major institutions. The fringe-ier performances included: a performance piece of light and sound called You Never Look at Me From the Place I See You and two very personal and brave one woman autobiographical shows (The Other Body and My Ex Mother-In-Law) at Tmu-Na Theater to a movement piece about our attraction to violence in art at the Tel Aviv Museum (Forever/Never produced by Clippa Theatre) to a sweet and dark children’s story ending with a trans-gender love story told at Jaffa Theatre (where Arabs and Jews work to create art together).
More polished was a stunning political fable told with puppets, a live video feed and 1,000 lbs of salt – The Road to Ein Harod by PuppetCinema , which you can see at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center this April. We also saw a few pieces of more traditional theater (what we would call plays). Jehu, an older play by Gilad Evron, who wrote Ulysses on Bottles, at the Habima National Theatre, the Israeli adaptation of Falling Out of Time at Gesher Theatre, which was developed specially for their space so the audience could move throughout three locations, and a pared down adaptation of Electra at The Cameri on a gruesome and stunning set. I will admit I skipped the Habima/Cameri co-production of Our Class because I wasn’t up for sitting through the shocking violence again.
In total, I saw 4 shows with no words, 3 shows that included chalk drawings, 4 shows with puppets, 3 site-specific works, 2 of which functioned as guided tours through the political and the personal, and 5 shows that used innovative projections. What I didn’t see were a lot of new plays by Israeli playwrights. (Those will be included in next year’s IsraDrama festival, rather than the Exposure festival.) What I did see was a lot of incredible, innovative and moving performances.
In between all of the performances, I carved out some time to connect with some playwrights – familiar faces and new friends. It was wonderful to reconnect with Motti Lerner and hear about his latest projects, which include a narrative film opening in December. I shared carrot/lemon/ginger juice (at her recommendation) with Hadar Galron (who wrote Mikveh). She is working on a new Israeli TV drama about a cult leader of sorts with many wives called Harem, which will also be adapted into a play. I dined with three young innovative artists from Ensemble Can who are working in a variety of fictional, devised and documentary style work – most recently in a trilogy about sex. I also had coffee with Goren Agmon, whose work deals primarily with the unsolved personal struggles in the lives of women in Israel.
I ended my time over a glass of wine with prolific and widely produced Israeli playwright Joshua Sobel. According to Motti, Joshua’s work is what inspired him to first become a playwright. His body of work already includes over 45 plays, but at 76 he is continuing to develop new work as both a playwright and director. His most recent works include The Melting Pot which looks at the growing prostitution problem in Israel and a new adaptation of Waiting for Godot in Yiddish, Russian and Spanish that frames the play as a story about two Russian Jewish refugees waiting for a smuggler (Godot) to ferry them across the French/Spanish border to safety.
And that’s not even getting into the fascinating people that I met from all over the world. Believe me, if I could have managed to squeeze in more than 2 falafels, I certainly would have! I’m looking forward to catching up on sleep and laundry, and then debriefing with all of my colleagues back at Theater J.